A few years ago the Dalai Lama made a remark that has ricocheted through the web for the past five years.
"Western women will save the world," the Buddhist spiritual leader reportedly said in a panel discussion of Nobel prize winners.
While some have pondered whether the Lama - neither a woman nor a Westerner - was wise to make such a proclamation, International Women's Day is the right time to consider the potential of women in the 21st century. My perspective for the past decade is that our planet's dominant social paradigm - patriarchy - has "advanced" civilization to the brink of ecological systems collapse, social inequality. On top of that, our willingness to go to war is frankly terrifying. The interesting question to ask is this: As women are drawing equal with men in terms of education, and as they are taking more and more positions of peer in business, law and politics, will a more gender balanced civilization result in a better future?
I wanted to ponder this issue with feminist theologian Karen Tate, who is the author of Goddess Calling and the editor of the anthology Voices of the Sacred Feminine:
Question: Karen, what do you make of the Dalai Lama's statement that the world will be saved by "the Western Woman?"
Tate: At first I was ecstatic that a male recognized to be a spiritual authority would render such a prophecy, such power to women, in this patriarchal world that devalues and marginalizes women, but then I began to look beyond the surface and came to believe, whether the Dalai Lama really meant this or not, that more likely it would be sacred feminine liberation "thealogy, or values of the Divine Feminine that would really save the world.
Here's why. In my life, I've known as many equally aware and evolved men as women. Men who value and love women. Men who support women and help them fight for equality. Men unafraid to come from their heart center, to nurture, to show compassion and have empathy.
Likewise, I've known many women who go through life practicing patriarchy in a skirt. Women complicit in their own oppression. Women who prop up the patriarchy because they either know nothing else or benefit from it. Women who callously practice what the famous feminist, Phyllis Chesler, has called "woman's inhumanity to woman." So it's not necessarily what genitals we were born with. It's what's in our heart. It's where we are along our spiritual path. Are we a product of a fear-based and intolerant upbringing or one that is inclusive and less fearful?
However, that said, I do believe women, in general, have in their "tool kit" innate abilities that come easier or more naturally to them. Perhaps you've heard about the MIT study that said groups are more successful when they include women because women have better social skills, can read between the lines, can intuit the energy of what's happening in a group or situation. We've heard about the college study, perhaps it was at UCLA, discussing rods and cones in our eyes. Women's eyes tend to help them see more peripherally and that transfers to their decision making and they are more concerned about how their decision affects others - a quality I'd say patriarchy has exploited very successfully. We've heard about women under stress "tend and befriend" while men "take flight". And these are just a few scientific revelations that show the value, perhaps even superiority of women, in certain situations. I believe the United Nations has a rule that there must be women at the table during a negotiation because it's more likely something will be achieved. We've seen the success of the women in Congress, coming together, across party lines, to get the work of the people done.
I do believe more women, and our like-minded brothers, who embody and strive to perpetuate the values of the Sacred Feminine, (partnership, negotiation, nurturing, equality, justice, fairness, caring and sharing, inclusiveness) will be the ones who choose sustainability in the long term over short term thinking. They select peace over war, development over growth, partnership over domination, and a world where we take care of the 99% rather than just value the needs of the 1% as we seem to do in this current predator capitalist and patriarchal world that causes the suffering and hopelessness of so many.
Question: How do you see women's progress in the 21st century? Are we coming to the end of patriarchy?
Tate: Women have made great strides in the last few decades thanks to brave, fearless and tenacious women and men. We've seen how giving micro-loans to women, rather than husbands, in Third World countries benefits these women's families and in some cases their whole village. Women no longer have to conform and fit into a little box. They have more options than my mother's generation. More women than men are graduating from college. We see on the television and movie screen new role models for women, even commercials during the Super Bowl about empowering girls and fighting domestic violence. Yet the work is far from over. Seventy percent of women still retire in poverty. In the United States we have less than 20% of women in leadership positions in academia, corporations, religious institutions and politics. Women aren't making equal pay as men for the same job. Men are still debating if rape is really rape and demand to control a woman's reproductive future. One in three women will be penetrated against their will. There's female genital mutilation, infanticide of girl babies, religions still teaching women are inferior helpmates who must submit to their husbands or hide their skin, pray at the back of the room, wear slippers so even their footsteps are not heard. Women cannot drive or go out without male escorts in some countries. Even here in the United States, I interview women who have escaped fundamentalist Christian groups who tell them their role in this life is to produce as many children as possible, and if their body gives out, then they're simply a martyr for Christ if they die in childbirth. We still have a lot of work to do to bring women into full equality so that they may be their authentic self and reach their fullest potential. But we will do it. I think the ground is shaking beneath the feet of some as society transitions. It makes many very afraid because change is hard for some. Equality and care changes the playing field but it's humanity's moral imperative and in the long run it will be a factor in whether we can save the world, because there is a direct correlation between how we treat women, the planet and the species that inhabit Mother Earth.
Question: The subtitle of your book Goddess Calling indicates you believe Goddess Spirituality is liberation thealogy. Can you explain what you mean by this?
Tate: Just as thealogy is the study of God, thealogy is the study of everything associated with the feminine face of the divine, or Goddess. There was a time when Christianity as the liberation thealogy of the time. Jesus showed the way. He walked with women. He was concerned for the poor. He overturned the tables of the money-changers in the temple.
Christianity was a religion giving hope to the hopeless, to the undervalued, to the slave and the down-trodden. While some still practice the Christianity of Jesus, others have gotten away from the ideas Jesus represented. Greed used to be a deadly sin. It had been our moral imperative to care for the poor. Now, instead, greed is good. It's about rugged individualism, pulling yourself up by your boot-straps even if you don't have any. If you're poor, you must be lazy or a sinner. Kids are killing themselves because their religion is telling them they're an abomination if they're gay. Women are still second-class citizens who can dust the altar but not lead from the altar. Consequently, Christianity, along with the other patriarchal religions, have gotten a black eye. People are leaving these male-dominated religions that preach exclusiveness, homophobia, sexism, callousness and conformity in droves.
Goddess spirituality is very different than the patriarchal religions I've described above. It can fit hand-in-glove with the Christianity of Jesus though. It's about inclusiveness, equality, environmentalism, fairness, peace, caring and sharing, negotiation and partnership. It calls for a society that benefits the most of us and not just the privileged. It allows everyone to be their authentic self and not fit into narrow little boxes determined by some men who wrote the rules for everyone. To quote Roy Tate, my husband of thirty years, "Goddess is not a religion, it's a way of life. You don't have to go out and kill someone for Her. You have to go out and love someone for Her - and yourself ."
Question: Books like Lean In offer a secular path for women to make it in a secular world. Is this a viable direction, or do you think the sacred feminine is somehow essential to women's progress?
Tate: Obviously one can espouse the values of the Sacred Feminine thealogy without being a Goddess advocate, however I believe knowing about or embracing the Sacred Feminine, as deity, archetype or ideal, is another tool in our tool kit. We start to learn how mythology shapes our society. If we have mythology that only reveres or recognizes a male god, then we end up with a society of male leadership. When one learns about Goddess, humanity learns diversity and sees across the globe there have been many faces of the Divine Feminine. She teaches us tolerance, strength, tenacity, compassion, to be a warrior/ess, that sexuality is normal and healthy. The Sacred Feminine brings the ideals mentioned throughout this interview into the center of society rather than marginalizing those values. Women and children are at the center of society, rather than on the fringes. It teaches women they were never meant to be subservient and should not settle for that paradigm. The Sacred Feminine is the great equalizer, tempering and bringing into balance our chaotic and out of balance world. And it's very interesting when people learn the Great She, as I like to call Her, has been around and worshiped by human being for more than 35,000 years - longer than a male god, that blows some people's minds. I know it did for me because I grew up in the bubble of the Bible Belt and we never learned about a feminine face of God there l- only Mary, Jesus' mother, and she teaches women to be passive, obedient and non-sexual.
Question: You've been named one of the 13 Most Influential Women in Goddess Spirituality and a Gatekeeper of the Women's Spirituality Movement. Are you teachings primarily for women or do men fit into this alternative vision for the world? Specifically, what do you say to men who feel threatened by the sacred feminine?
Tate: These teachings are for anyone and everyone who wants a peaceful and healthy world and a better quality of life. This is for people who want to save the planet and be free or liberated from the oppression and domination of fundamentalism, patriarchy and predator capitalism. Many men are behind these "sacred feminine ideas" and are our allies in these teachings and the coming paradigm shift I believe the Dalai Lama foresees. As I mentioned earlier on, this is not just for and about women. It's about a mind-set. It's about certain values. It's about oneness, inclusiveness, and our inter-connection to each other and Mother Earth.
For the men who might feel threatened, I'd say, imagine your ideal Mother. That's Goddess. She opens her arms in love and acceptance. She expects your best and you have to work hard, but you are rewarded by her ample beneficence. She's provided everything on this planet we need to sustain ourselves. And from another perspective, I'd ask men if they tired of going it alone? Don't they want an equal partner to help them through life? Would they like to understand women better and have better relationships with them? I'd ask them where's your sense of adventure and desire to spiritually evolve toward a more loving and balanced world? Do you care about the planet and having a more sustainable future? I think these values of the Sacred Feminine can address these issues.
Question: What do you see as the biggest challenge for the women's spirituality movement and for women in the next decade?
Tate: Education is one challenge. I think we have to take responsibility for our own education and not believe everything we've been told from the pulpit, the dining room table and other institutions that want to control us and protect the status quo. We have to be willing to upset that "apple cart" in our life and in our mind with some fresh ideas and critical thinking. We have to be fearless and not conform just because it's easier. Most of us have come to realize patriarchy - rule by a male-dominated society revering solely a male God - is not working for Mother Earth or most of the people on the planet. We have to shed hopelessness and complacency, and find ways to counter beliefs that there is no option but the authoritarian father. We have to help humankind make a course correction because patriarchy has permeated every level of society from womb to tomb, boardroom to bedroom, voting booth to the workplace. We must shift into a more fair, equal, and just world of partnership, sharing, caring and peace. That calls us to get up off the couch. Lead. Learn. Volunteer. Vote. Know who really has your best interest in mind, even if it means choosing the lesser of two evils until the better choice is available. Don't fall for the false equivalency argument both political parties are the same. We also have to put our money where our mouth is. Get one of those apps that tells you what products the Koch Brothers makes and don't buy those brands. Boycott businesses that promote ideas you don't agree with or exploit their workers or don't pay women equal pay, or fire people for being gay. Drink one less cup of Starbucks and send the money to a worthy cause. There really is a lot we can do if we stand together in solidarity. We have to stop falling for the wedge issues the corporate owned media creates. If every marginalized group stood together in solidarity, the world would be a better place in a blink of an eye. Find your sacred roar!
Rev. Dr. Karen Tate is a four-times published author, speaker, sacred tour leader and social justice activist. She is the host of the long-running radio show, Voices of the Sacred Feminine on Blog Talk Radio and can be seen in the documentary, Femme: Women Healing the World, produced by actress Sharon Stone and Wonderland Entertainment. Her books include: Goddess Calling: Inspirational Messages and Meditations of Sacred Feminine Liberation Thealogy , Voices of the Sacred Feminine: Conversations to ReShape Our World, Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations and Walking an Ancient Path: Rebirthing Goddess on Planet Earth. Her website is www.karentate.com